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Make Christ present

| Friday, November 21, 2014

I had the opportunity to travel back to South Bend this past Thursday. Although my work in Indianapolis does not allow frequent jaunts back to the familiar sites of campus, its beauty was still fresh in my mind from this past summer. Images of warm sunshine, green grass and wind rippling gently over the lakes sent a smile over my face as I began my drive.

These pleasant visions were, unfortunately, short-lived. Clear autumnal skies faded to reveal a much starker reality. A November snow had descended over South Bend. Cue the quick exit of my pleasant summer memories.

Red taillights danced like disco lights in between the snow flurries that were blanketing the South Bend roads. But things were anything but a party. It took me around an hour to progress a mile through downtown South Bend.

Through it all, I could not help but think to myself, “Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were greeting the sunshine? My, the time has gone quickly.”

It seems like just last week that I was beginning my undergraduate career at Notre Dame, and just yesterday that I was beginning my graduate studies with Echo. This work has taken me to the campus of Notre Dame during the summers and to the city of Indianapolis during the year.

And now that my two years are winding down, it’s time to think more toward the future, to life after Echo.

While it’s exciting to face the future, this has never been a particularly easy task for me. Quite simply, I have been called a “perpetual discerner.” I have been known to think, weigh, re-weigh and examine every nook and cranny of a possible decision before committing.

In fact, my journey to a decision probably looks like my journey through the streets of South Bend that last Thursday: slow. The “traffic” and clutter of my life frequently blanket the road of my life. It can be hard not only to get my footing but to see clearly in front of me.

All this reminds me of a job request I received not too long ago. It was a job posting for a ministry position with the Diocese of Raleigh. The position was titled “Director of the New Evangelization.”

Now, if you follow the Church, the topic of the “New Evangelization” is like a drive in the heavy snow in South Bend. It’s a hard topic on which to get any sort of good footing.

But I describe it to people in this way. To evangelize means to share the Gospel, to spread its “good news.”

The word “new,” I’ve always thought, is somewhat misleading though. The message of the Gospel and Christ is certainly not new.

What is new, however, what is always changing, are the particular ways in which we get to “present” Christ’s truths. But I’ve always wondered: “How do we present the unchanging truths of faith in such a way that they can be understood by people thousands of years removed from its original context?”

I still do chuckle to think that “one person” could ever “direct” the “New Evangelization.” I often think to myself, “Isn’t that the work of the Holy Spirit?”

The saints, however, I think provide us with a more nuanced understanding.

It reminds me of a very charming story about one of those saints, recently canonized St. John XXIII. As pope, he once found himself visiting a hospital named Holy Spirit in Rome. Not expecting him, the religious sister in charge introduced herself: “Most Holy Father, I am the superior of the Holy Spirit!” To which John replied, “Well, I must say you’re lucky. I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”

St. John XXIII was known for his humor. Other saints, like St. Francis of Assisi, were known for their acceptance of poverty. Others, like St. Joan of Arc, were known for their courage. The list could continue on and on. But, while each of them worked using different gifts and talents, they all reimagined Christ’s mission in their own particular contexts.

In “The Chronicles of Narnia,” C.S. Lewis had the same goal. The great lion Aslan, he said, was what he imagined Jesus would look like if he became incarnate in a magical world like Narnia.

And it brings up an interesting question for me. What does Christ look like in our own “worlds?” How can we make him present? The saints provide us with good roadmaps. But, in the midst of all our searching and discernment, perhaps it is a question we have to ask ourselves.

What would happen if our minds were focused on making Jesus present? Perhaps his light could illumine the shadows of our questions, and we might be able to attain that clarity we most long for.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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